Home » Why We Love, Why We Cheat: Helen Fisher (Transcript)

Why We Love, Why We Cheat: Helen Fisher (Transcript)

I want to end with a story. And then, just a comment.

I’ve been studying romantic love and sex and attachment for 30 years. I’m an identical twin; I am interested in why we’re all alike. Why you and I are alike, why the Iraqis and the Japanese and the Australian Aborigines and the people of the Amazon River are all alike.

And about a year ago, an Internet dating service, Match.com, came to me and asked me if I would design a new dating site for them. I said, “I don’t know anything about personality. You know? I don’t know. Do you think you’ve got the right person?”

They said, “Yes.”

It got me thinking about why it is that you fall in love with one person rather than another. That’s my current project; it will be my next book. There’s all kinds of reasons that you fall in love with one person rather than another. Timing is important. Proximity is important. Mystery is important.

You fall in love with somebody who’s somewhat mysterious, in part because mystery elevates dopamine in the brain, probably pushes you over that threshold to fall in love.

You fall in love with somebody who fits within what I call your “love map,” an unconscious list of traits that you build in childhood as you grow up.

And I also think that you gravitate to certain people, actually, with somewhat complementary brain systems. And that’s what I’m now contributing to this.

But I want to tell you a story, to illustrate.

I’ve been carrying on here about the biology of love. I wanted to show you a little bit about the culture of it, too, the magic of it. It’s a story that was told to me by somebody who had heard it just from one — probably a true story.

It was a graduate student — I’m at Rutgers and my two colleagues — Art Aron is at SUNY Stony Brook. That’s where we put our people in the MRI machine. And this graduate student was madly in love with another graduate student, and she was not in love with him.

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And they were all at a conference in Beijing. And he knew from our work that if you go and do something very novel with somebody, you can drive up the dopamine in the brain, and perhaps trigger this brain system for romantic love.

So he decided he’d put science to work. And he invited this girl to go off on a rickshaw ride with him. And sure enough — I’ve never been in one, but apparently they go all around the buses and the trucks and it’s crazy and it’s noisy and it’s exciting. He figured that this would drive up the dopamine, and she’d fall in love with him.

So off they go and she’s squealing and squeezing him and laughing and having a wonderful time.

An hour later they get down off of the rickshaw, and she throws her hands up and she says, “Wasn’t that wonderful?” And, “Wasn’t that rickshaw driver handsome!”

There’s magic to love!

But I will end by saying that millions of years ago, we evolved three basic drives: the sex drive, romantic love and attachment to a long-term partner.

These circuits are deeply embedded in the human brain. They’re going to survive as long as our species survives on what Shakespeare called “this mortal coil.”

Thank you.

For Further Reading: 

The Secret To Building Forward Momentum In Your Romantic Relationship


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